Installation in the Park of Schloss Wiepersdorf 2001

Opening Speech on the Exhibition “Diwan” by Hildegard Skowasch
Place: Künstlerhaus Schloß Wiepersdorf May 27th , 2001

“A Fine Romance” – I don’t know what it makes you think of, but when I hear “a fine romance” I think of magazines for bridal accessories, love novels or soap operas, where young women weep in their pillows and end with ”Please call me” or ”only love counts”. Without wanting to appear unromantic or too sober: “A Fine Romance”, all this kitsch gives me goose pimples. In the context of art this sounds out of place, at best sarcastic.
“A Fine Romance” is the title of a sculpture by Hildegard Skowasch from the year 1996. But both, form and material contradict the title at once. It is a cube on two columns as legs, which recall an oversized chest of drawers. A flowered wallpaper in pink, blue and yellow covers its surface and out of rectangular opening slits sprout green grass, which otherwise decorates children’s Easter egg baskets. It swells out of the object as if coming out of stuffed drawers, blocks one’s view of its inner life and what it hides. Perhaps it is just a well camouflaged embrasure.
The sculpture illustrates the artists work principies and indicates at the same time a turning point in her work which the series of cuchions shows. Whereas earlier the ready mades and mass produced works made her objects unconventional and saved them from being pretty, the artist for the “Diwan” has now resorted to brush and palette.
The works of Hildegard Skowasch are not easy to understand as their lightness would suggest at first glance. Play and seriousness, simple forms and complexity form a fragile equilibrium. Its charm lies precisely in these polarities. To solve the romantic riddle without surrendering its ultimate secret: “A Fine Romance” is the brandname of the wallpaper which Skowasch used for her sculpture.

Hildegard Skowasch keeps giving her works daring titles and connotations. The border between banality and artistic gesture are exemplified in titles such as “In geordneten Verhältnissen” and “das Normale verpassen” (Missing the Normal). Skowasch retrieves the normal. Like an alchemist she transforms the normal in terms of her own metaphors. Trinkets and knick-knacks, garbage and rubbish of society – which is ultimately nothing else than our own junk – all this the artist collects, arranging it tidily on the full over-crowded table in the realm of art. These utensils: Deli cups, kidney shaped coffee tables, colored strings, small metal casters – they all convey in a bizarre, humorous fashion the meaning of her personal mythology.

The line between every day – and art object is thin. This we know from modern art history from Marcel Duchamps to Andy Warhol, from Kurt Schwitters to Ilya Kabakov. In this cornucopia of transfigured everyday things rationality was led ad absurdum. Hildegard Skowasch with the “Diwan” has discovered something which was almost forgotten: the moment of simple living beauty.

The catastrophies of the 20th century are reflected in all its facets from Expressionism to the performance environments of a Jonathan Meese. Neither art nor politics has been able to overcome them; around us institutionalized as well as individual horror rages – not least the catastrophies in the Balkans have yet to leave Europe. In view of this realtiy only a few hours away, but also in view of the critical and fragmentary approach in art since the modern classics, the serenity of the works by Hildegard Skowasch appear boldly anachronistic.
In a conversation on the cuchion series the artist indeed admits her hesitation and her qualms about beauty. In “The Picture of Dorian Gray” Oscar Wilde lets Lord Henry say: “You have a wonderfully beautiful face, Mr Gray. Don’t frown. You have. Beauty is a form of genius, as it needs no explanation… It cannot be questioned. It has its divine right of sovereignty… You smile! Ah! When you have lost it you won’t smile.”
The prophecy of the ambiguous Lord Henry has come true. We don’t smile anymore. And in the so called fine arts the beautiful today is strongely frowned upon. Relegated to the sphere of the lowly arts and crafts. At the most it is at home in design from where it proceeds to the fais of vanities – and goes on to conquer the hallowed halls of the museum. Oscar Wilde sums it up: “People say sometimes that beauty is only superficial. That maybe so. But at least it is not so superficial as thought.” Why should artists leave the beautiful up to the epigones?
Skowasch’s works are a first step towards reconquering the terrain of sensual pleasure and towards reinstating the sublime without dwelling on the pretty surface. These works stimulate thought.

How do artists experience sculpture today? As observers, how do we perceive sculpture? And what effect do these preceptions have on sculptural objects? The antique statues in the park of Schloss Wiepersdorf are to us very clearly works of designed sculptures. Their contours, the solid stone and not least the base dispel every doubt and guarantee them as works of art.
How do the objects of Hildegard Skowasch look amidst these sculptures? Their shape is a matter of accident. Nevertheless they aim clearly at the concrete, the familiar, the recognizable: cuchions in commercial size. The material is ill-disposed towards exalted art – which still wafts over this site of romantic bourgeois tradition. This cuchions are made of papermaché, so they are light, stiff, ordinary and in the original sense of the word ephemeral. By choosing papermaché the artist distances herself from eternal values as well as from the artist as genius. The objects make their way on flat ground – and there they hold their own pertly between the foundation of traditions.

Almost accidental Hildegard Skowasch’s works undergo a change by using the art of the 20th century. Everything the chieftains of modern art hold up to the bourgoise as distortion, Skowasch picks up, turns into its opposite and - under different circumstances – returns to the fine arts. Just as in “A Fine Romance” a wall paper – a ready-made - covers the object, reminiscences from art history envelope these cuchions. And yet they are a far cry from the colored cuchions of a Gotthard Graubner, the installation “12 Kissen” of Rainer Ruthenbeck or even the “Soft Sculptures” of Claes Oldenburg. Like a permeable second skin Skowasch puts quotations from painters on the inflexible objects. It is not art which focuses alone on the artwork as its subject. Instead they allude and evoke memories.
Pictures of op-art, hints of the colored ornaments of a Niki de St.Phalle, and in the small white cuchion, thoughts of Kasimir Malewitsch flash. Flower blossoms are borrowed from Picasso’s portrait of a lady “Le Rêve”, in which flowers are also on a wall paper in the background. And as in a dream, we would like to fall into the beautiful cuchions and patterns, rest and once again dream, the dream of all-encompassing beauty. For this the diwan is more than a fitting picture, especially on this site. F of East and West is taking place, and if it happens most likely in the arts.
The seclusion of the Schloss which Bettine von Arnim fled and only in later years learned to appreciate, inspired Hildegard Skowasch to these new works. And again the title guards us against lighthearted cosyness. These objects without function are emblematic. Their appearance is deceptive and the covers are hard. As you make your bed you must lie on it, no art covers you up. But perhaps it will encourage you to think anew on beauty.

Michaela Nolte

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